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Simply Sustainable Amsterdam office convened a group of experienced sustainability leaders for our quarterly roundtable meeting on 19 September. The lively discussion focused on how companies can plan and execute the transition to their net-zero target. We saw an extensive exchange of views and experiences between peers, recognising common challenges and sharing views of what is needed to progress the carbon agenda in line with the latest science. 

Net-zero: glass half-empty and glass half-full

Almost half of the largest companies worldwide have committed to net-zero emissions by mid-century. This is a huge step forward, compared to a few years ago. Yet participants also emphasised that this falls short of what is needed, and many more companies need to commit to and plan for eliminating GHG emissions.  

The discussion reflected on the change that is building in the market and will help accelerate the transition. Some highlighted how regulation is driving companies to reduce emissions, using both carrots – like the incentives for investment in low-carbon solutions in the US Inflation Reduction Act – and sticks, like regulation mandating disclosure of emissions in Europe and the US. Others pointed to the role of the EU Taxonomy, which will shift the allocation of finance to sustainable activities and could radically rewrite the business case for emissions reduction.  

We can’t open the gates tomorrow

In her introduction, the sustainability manager of Artis Amsterdam Zoo, where we hosted the event, explained the tensions between the opportunities of educating the next generation about nature and grow their love for animals, with keeping animals in captivity for that matter. Even with a strategy to reduce the number of species, many of these animals nowadays depend on their care and breeding programs for their very existence. ‘You cannot just open all gates tomorrow.’ 

In the subsequent discussion, we heard that many companies are in a similar position. Even if they would want to be net zero tomorrow, they cannot erase their current business activities from one day to the next. This means that it is important to take your stakeholders along on your journey.  

For companies whose core business activities have a significant carbon footprint, this means explaining the opportunities and challenges in decarbonising these, and communicating openly about the choices you make as a business and why you make these.  

For a company that help reduce emission by providing a low-carbon product or service, this means explaining that even though growth means more impact, it comes with negative side effects that need to be addressed. 

Aligning net-zero with business growth

The final part of the roundtable discussion focused on the tension between emissions reduction and business growth. Even when companies have set net-zero targets at the top, the implementation of emissions reduction measures can be hampered by tension with growth targets.  

The participants explored in what ways tensions can be helpful to progress thinking, and what mechanisms companies can use to deal with conflicts between KPIs. Internal carbon pricing was discussed as a helpful way to integrate emissions considerations in investment decisions, while integration of emissions criteria was suggested as helpful in procurement and M&A. And, as one participant noted, there’s nothing like an activist CEO or activist shareholders for driving change.  

Read Simply Sustainable’s Insights Series on Net-zero for a further analysis of net zero target setting. 

Author: Sytze Dijkstra, Netherlands Country Manager

It is vital to understand where you are setting off from, before embarking on your net-zero journey.

Like all targets, net-zero targets point to where you need to get to, from your current baseline and by when. There are various ways of creating carbon reduction targets and it is good to see that we have finally moved on from picking nice-sounding round numbers that worked well together (e.g. 20% reduction by 2020 or 30% by 2030). Today, most targets are being set in-line with what the science is telling us is needed to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Targets in line with climate science, AKA science-based targets.

Before embarking on your net-zero journey, it is vital to consider why you are setting your target and how you want to communicate your goals. What is the scope of the target? Is it for one company, a group-wide target or country specific? This will impact the approach you need to take, particularly the first step in your net-zero journey; measuring your carbon footprint.

Step 1: Understand your current emissions

Every company’s net-zero journey will be different, but they all start in the same place; understanding the baseline carbon footprint.

To establish a resilient and comprehensive net-zero target, it is important to ensure that you include all relevant emissions categories in your baseline carbon footprint. Whilst some net-zero frameworks, such as the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), don’t require 100% of your footprint to be covered in your target, it is important to begin with a full picture of your footprint and association carbon hotspots. For the purposes of SBTi, your baseline year must be no earlier than 2019 and ideally should be your most recent year.

Our advice would be to follow best practice emissions reporting standards (e.g. Greenhouse Gas Protocol Accounting and Reporting Standard [2004:2015], ISO 14064-1, SBTi Corporate Net-Zero Standard [2021]). This will not only ensure that you have a solid baseline but will also mean that you can use the data collected for other reporting requirements (such as SECR, TCFD and CSRD). Following best practice standards will also assure that you are audit ready, should someone come knocking!

All seven greenhouse gasses covered under the GHG Protocol should be included in your footprint and emissions from across the entire value chain should be incorporated. This includes emissions produced by a company’s own processes (Scope 1), purchased electricity and heat (Scope 2) and those by suppliers and end-users (Scope 3). For more information on emission scopes see the diagram below and this Simple Guide to Scope 3 Emissions by Sytze Dijkstra, Simply Sustainable’s Netherlands Country Manager.

Simply Sustainable Score 3 diagram

Step 2: Hotspot analysis

Analysing the biggest areas of opportunity and risk in relation to decarbonisation.

Emissions hotspots are areas within your business operations and supply chain that have the greatest carbon impact, and as such, offer the greatest opportunity to drive reductions in your carbon footprint. Before setting carbon reduction or net-zero targets it is important to understand your hotspots and understand how these will be impacted by any areas of significant change or growth within your business.

Step 3: Internal buy-in

Getting buy-in at board level is key to the success of your net-zero strategy.

One common mistake is organisations signing-up to sustainability targets and commitments without fully understanding the implications on their business, or how to achieve their commitments. This does not mean that you need to know the exact actions you will be required to take to achieve net-zero, but it does mean that you need to understand the scale of the challenge ahead, before committing. This is not only important for gaining buy-in internally but can also carry a reputational risk. In the first five years after launching, SBTi expelled 119 companies from the initiative after failing to submit climate targets within two years of committing.

Getting buy-in at board level is key to the success of your net-zero strategy, this will not only help your board to increase its carbon literacy but will also help to drive action when it comes to the decarbonisation required to meet your net-zero commitment.

Step 4: Committing to your net-zero journey

Publicly committing to your net-zero journey will help keep momentum and drive action.

Publicly committing to set a net-zero target is not mandatory, but something that is encouraged by the SBTi. This can be done informally through your own internal and external communications, or more formally though submitting a commitment letter to SBTi. If going through the formal SBTi process, you have 24 months to submit your target after signing your commitment letter.

Next in the net-zero series

This is part 2 of a series of insights into net-zero. The next article in our series will cover how to calculate your net-zero target, how to ensure it’s in line with the science and making sure you are setting the right level of ambition, whilst ensuring your target is achievable.

If you are interested in setting net-zero targets, but not sure where to start, please contact us or request a call back.

Author: Henry Unwin, Head of Climate and Carbon Services


All too often, people delve into the detail of net-zero before looking at the bigger picture and how net-zero target setting began.

Ever since COP21, better known as the Paris Climate Change Agreement in 2016, we have seen many businesses and countries committing to reduce their emissions and announcing net-zero target dates. This has been incredibly encouraging, but it is also important that these targets are both robust and ambitious (something we will come onto later in our net-zero insights series).

The message from COP21 in Paris and from the IPCC since then has been crystal clear. The science on climate change is telling us that we must rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally by 45% by 2030 and to net-zero by 2050. If we do not do this, we have no chance of keeping global warming to within 1.5°C.

The significance of 1.5°C

This 1.5°C figure is vitally important. It is a figure that is often used but not always understood. If the average global temperature increases by more than 1.5°C from pre-industrial levels (set at an 1850-1900 average baseline), then we will see increasingly catastrophic consequences of climate change. Even at 1.5°C warming we will see significant impacts on our planet. If we exceed this target by just half a degree, the results will be dramatic: ice-free arctic summers will increase 10-fold, double the number of vertebrates and plants will lose their habitats, as will triple the number of insects1. We will lose a shocking 99% of our coral reefs and almost 40% of the global population will be exposed to extreme heat at least once every five years.

These are significant impacts and we must act now if we are to avoid them. Worryingly, we have already seen an average increase in temperatures of 1.1°C. These increases in temperature are directly related to the amount of carbon and other greenhouse gasses (GHGs) that humans emit into the atmosphere. It is these GHG emissions that we must reduce by 45% by 2030 and to net-zero by 2050, at the latest.

What does net-zero actually mean?

Net-zero emissions are achieved when anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere are balanced by anthropogenic removals over a period of time2.

Put more simply, what goes up must come down. However, what is often missed when looking at net-zero is that it is not as simple as balancing carbon emissions with carbon removals/offsets. Robust methodologies for achieving net-zero (again, something we will come to later in our net-zero insights series) require significant reductions in absolute emissions (up to 95%) before balancing out the rest with removals/offsets. We need rapid and deep decarbonisation, not just the balancing of emissions.

It can be easy to feel down when we look at figures on carbon emissions and the impacts of climate change. However, there are real reasons to be optimistic, and throughout this series of insights we hope to shine light on the positive solutions required to create a brighter, sustainable future for all.

In May we will cover how to approach setting a robust net-zero target. To receive the next insight in this net-zero series, as well as other insights on ESG and sustainability, sign up to our newsletter at the bottom of this page.

Author: Henry Unwin, Head of Carbon and Climate Services

  1. wri.org
  2. ipcc.ch

Net-zero is a vast topic and one that is impossible to cover in any depth in just one insight. Therefore, over the forthcoming months we will be publishing a series of insights on net-zero, positively looking at the following:

  • What is net-zero and why is it important?
  • How to approach setting a net-zero target (baseline carbon footprinting and understanding)
  • Ensuring your target is robust, ambitious and in line with the science on climate change
  • Integrating and communicating your net-zero target
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